Monday, November 19, 2007

I remember my mother

I spoke in person at my mother's memorial in New York City on October 14. It was so hard to prepare -- I almost decided against it. But then my stepmother suggested that I would regret it if I didn't. She was right. So I spoke. I was not at all nervous -- I usually am speaking in front of a crowd. And this was a crowd that included many writers and practiced speakers. I did completely choke up on the first sentence and had to pause for a good long time (probably seconds only, but felt like a while) until I was capable of speaking. Here is what I said:

I could not have asked for a better mother. She was unconditionally loving and supportive, sensitive and understanding. She was also a tremendous role model in many ways – brilliant, adventurous, creative. Yes, she could drive me crazy sometimes, but she was my mother. Whose parents don’t drive them nutty sometimes? And she had an amazing memory – which fed her writing ability and probably even demanded that she write.

My mother always said her earliest memories – from when she was 2 or 3 – were clear and her thoughts were more sophisticated than she could express at the time. I wish I could recall the exact memory she related as an example – it had to do with listening to a piece of music.

I am so worried that I will forget all the stories she told me and that the memories that only the two of us share will fade in me, the sole holder of them now. I have been writing again, as she always wanted me to do, and a great deal about her.

I have been writing “I remembers” in bits and pieces. With so many writers and teachers of writing in the room, you probably know what I am referring to. My mother assigned her students this exercise: Write a piece in which every sentence begins with “I remember.” It was a way to tease out concrete writing.

Since I have been considering how to convey what a fantastic, loving mother she was. And how interesting and intelligent. How much she meant to me, her only child.

A somewhat random selection of my “I remembers” is a place to start:

I remember she called me “darling.” As in, “I love you, darling” and “How are you, my darling?”

I remember how she neatly quartered apples and pears, sliding the knife effortlessly in an arc to cut out the seeds. Then she put the quarters on a little plate. I remember she cut the tip of a banana off instead of snapping the top open, leaving a cone of banana flesh, which I wanted to eat first, in the tip.

I remember she bought a miniature, kiddie-sized set of wicker table and chairs so I would sit still and eat. I remember her plan didn’t work. She also tried plates and bowls with pictures, such as those of Winnie the Pooh, so that I would eat all my food eagerly to get to the bottom. This also didn’t work.

I remember the giant floor pillows covered with colorful Moroccan print fabrics that she set up under the built-in bookshelves in the living room. I remember she would sit on the pillows with me and read to me. Or I would sit there and cut up her magazines to use pictures as paper dolls.

I remember my mother taking me to the carousel in Central Park. I remember she told me about the brass rings, hanging high, that carousel riders of the past would try to grab. I remember I believed she knew the origins of all sayings, phrases and words.

I remember my mother’s office, next to my bedroom, the walls covered in world maps. I remember her office in Sydney, covered floor to ceiling, wall to wall, in Monet posters. I remember she sent me cards and postcards reprinting paintings of windows with girls looking out of them, their backs to the viewer. I think they reminded her of me. They are on my office wall.

I remember my mother almost always had music playing – the radio tuned to the public radio classical station. I remember she recognized most pieces, “Oh, that’s so and so’s such and such.” She also knew the words – in the original language – of many opera pieces. And she would sing.

I remember my mother singing show tunes, often in the kitchen, and pre-rock pop tunes such as “You’re the top” and “Button up your overcoat.” I remember getting older – a teenager – yelling at her to stop – embarrassed though no one else was in the apartment.

I remember my mother tsk-tsking jaywalkers when she was driving, and I swear that she sped up to make her point. I remember she denied this.

I remember my mother’s “clothing museum” of our clothing. Things we’d never wear again, but that reminded her of significant events. Pigskin bell bottoms, a red corduroy toddler jacket with embroidered flowers on it. I remember a fair bit of polyester (a long black sheath dress, an orange/red/pink striped mini dress.

And these are just a small handful memories. But a place to start, to remember her, preserve our shared stories, to try to capture what she was like. I cannot believe I will never see her again.

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